Friday, October 15, 2010

#FridayFlash - "Up in Smoke"

Owen lifted the bottle of Michelob to his mouth and took a long pull, the beer mixing with tobacco juice. He swallowed.

He said, “I gotta tell you something, Jack,” and then wiped his mouth with the back of a dusty hand. “These days, I can’t rightly figure out what’s wrong with some people.”

He kept his voice low, but it didn’t matter. Jack could hear well enough. On the porch beside him, Jack glanced up, but then quickly turned his attention toward the field. His muscles were tense, the hair along his spine stiff. His ears were ramrod straight.

To calm the dog down, Owen gently patted him on the head. “Easy there, amigo. We’ll get to it.”

Jack whined. His eyes looked slightly confused in the soft glow of the moon, but he sat down obediently.

“That’s a good boy,” Owen said, and meant it. As far as dogs went, Jack was the best he’d ever seen. In fact, he thought the old boy knew and respected more about this life than most humans ever would, and at times he wished his friend could somehow speak, carry on a conversation; however, all they had were a few simple commands, a wag of the tail, and a scratch behind the ears.

“You know, come to think of it,” Owen said, picking up his earlier thought, “it’s kind of like that boy back in the Valley, Ol’ what’s-his-name.”

Owen paused then as he heard the high pitch of mosquito wings and felt it land on the side of his neck. His eyes narrowed. He pushed the bottle of Michelob down between his legs, the coldness of it turning his jeans cool, and waited only a moment longer before he swatted his neck.

At the sound, Jack jumped up, looked at him. Another whine.

Owen pulled his hand away, feeling the warmth spread across his skin now, and looked at the darkened blob on his palm.

“Darn bugs.”

The ordeal over, Jack finally sat back down, his attention directed toward the field.

“Where was I?” Owen said. A few seconds later, he smiled. “Oh yeah.”

He wiped the smashed bug off on a pants leg.

“You see, there was this dumb farmer, got caught with his tractor plowing up rows in another man’s field, so to speak. Nineteen-eighty-eight, I think it was. Anyway, as it turned out, he and Mrs. McClary -- at least I can remember her name -- they were having themselves a good ol’ time, thinking nobody else was paying them any mind. And for awhile, it worked out just fine. That is, until a little old lady from the church discovered the snake in the grass and then found it in herself to have a talking-to with Mr. McClary. Like did he have any idea what his wife was doing, with who, and under his own roof even?”

Owen peered out into the darkness covering his field and frowned. He leaned forward and spat.

Jack stood up.

“Not yet,” Owen said, leaning back into the chair.

Jack whined again.

“The way I heard it?" Owen continued. "Mr. McClary paid that man a visit, told him to find himself another woman. Otherwise, he’d cut off the man’s business and feed it to the pigs.” Owen chuckled then, the laugh coming out wet and crackly. He cleared his throat, said “Which is kind of funny, you think about it, feeding sausage to a sausage factory.”

He laughed harder then and looked to Jack to see if the dog might give him one of those open-mouth grins. Jack apparently didn’t care one way or the other.

“Ah well,” Owen said, the smile fading. “I guess it’s not for everyone. The point is, I would have never thought to do anything like that. In fact, my dad ever heard I was messing around with another man’s woman? He’d of beat me to death himself. Like what was I thinking? Didn’t he raise me better than that?”

Jack’s ears twitched back and then shot forward. He groaned with anticipation.

“Not now, though. Folks today could care less what everyone else thinks or what they have. In fact, I’m willing to wager there’d be folks today who’d say it was Mr. McClary’s fault his woman ran around. If he couldn’t do right and take care of her, then he deserved it.”

Owen reached down, picked up the Michelob, and took another long draw before he set the bottle on the porch.

“No, Jack, folks today’re too consumed with themselves to stay out of another man’s field.”

He reached to his left and grabbed the rifle leaning against the porch post. Pulled up against his shoulder, Owen squinted and looked through the night scope he’d also bought right after the state gave him the license for his farm. The gun had been a perfectly legal purchase. The silencer on the end of it? Well, that was another matter.

In the scope, he saw green images, people standing at the far edge of his field.

“Like these two right here,” he said and held his breath as he gently squeezed the trigger.

Jack barked now, but Owen didn’t care.

“One down,” Owen said, peering through the scope. “And one more…”

He held his breath and squeezed off another round.

Jack barked furiously. His tail swept with excitement.


At the edge of the field, Owen stared at the two men. The first one had been a head shot, quick and clean. The second one lay there, bullet wound to the chest, crying and screaming, that sucking sound in his throat.

“All we wanted was a little weed to smoke, man.”

“Didn’t you see the signs? Private property. Trespassers will be shot.”

“Ain’t right,” the young man cried. “This is America.”

Owen shook his head. “No son, this is my field. And you’re stealing my crop.”

He raised the gun to his shoulder and held his breath one more time.


  1. Good cowboyish conversation on how things have changed outside their circle. I don't blame the Mister for his lady.

  2. I love this, it is so atmospheric, and has so many brilliant lines and quotes in it.

    Ploughing up rows in another man's field..

    Feeding sausage to a sausage factory...

    to name just a couple.

  3. Thanks for the wonderful feedback, guys. I'm glad you liked the colorful way that Owen has to describe things.

  4. Excellent story- really captured the way a man talks to his dog, amongst other things!

  5. I like the way the dog leads us through casual conversation towards the violent end; it's his unease that sets the tension level higher as the story progresses. Some nice writing here.

  6. Nice job, Stephen. Good to see you back at it again.

  7. Thanks, everyone. I appreciate the feedback.

  8. I really enjoyed Owen's voice in this one. Jack's reactions were spot-on, too. Good story all the way around.

  9. Good story, Stephen. The tension built up nicely. I was expecting a lover's tryst at the edge of the fields, so enjoyed the pot thieves ending. Owen is one cold dude,